I tweeted earlier that if Meatloaf were in a Dublin concert, he might have sung – “I want EU, I need EU, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love EU, but don’t be sad, cos 2 out of 3 ain’t bad”…. that is another story for another day.
“Need” and “want” are sometimes confused, and easily done when the economy is growing strongly. The recession and its effects have thrown into sharp relief the difference between the two.
Marx said: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs“. For socialism, it is “To each according to his contribution (what he produces)“.
There is I believe consensus that the current welfare system is bloated, too expensive and perhaps over-generous in limited cases. It has created benefit traps in this country where there are over a million non-working households. The Coalition wants a reformed system which “makes work pay”, which encourages people who can work to contribute, but discourages those who can but do not wish to work. There are obviously people who cannot work (or work full time) because of childcare responsibilities, old age or long term disabilities, their needs should be supported where appropriate & they should not be penalised or frowned upon.
Those exceptions aside, it seems to me that the basic principle of Coalition’s proposed welfare reforms must be right and what’s more, it satisfies the communism & socialism ideals of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs/contribution”. I don’t think Marx would have envisaged a prolonged state of affairs where some people receive but not give.
Ultimately I believe welfare should be a balance between what taxpayers should fund and what welfare recipients should receive, and to what extent should the former fund the latter’s “wants & aspirations” once the latter’s “needs” have been satisfied. There will be debates over the coming months about what the “needs” are – the original Bevan “safety net”, Bevan Plus, or those under the bigger welfare state we are more used to.
As for aspirations, I believe they should be kick-started by the State for the benefit of everyone – give people a foot on the ladder so to speak, the question is how far up the ladder? Tories would ideologically say the first couple of steps on the ladder before people are left to their own devices, but Labour/LibDems might say a few more steps up. It goes without saying that before people are freed from welfare, there should be opportunities for them to take advantage of.
Apart from the welfare system, I believe the State has also grown too big in the last decade, not just in relation to how much of the national economy it funds (over 50%!), but also “culturally” – to the point that a parent said to me yesterday:
… why the local council can’t organise activities for teenagers during school holidays…
I was left speechless, I know this could be an extreme example but it nonetheless illustrates the point that some people want the State to provide answers to problems which should be the responsibility of the individual.
Somehow, imperceptibly, “need” has shifted to “want” both financially and culturally during the economic growth spurts of the last decade, the State has provided for the “needs” AND satisfied the “wants”. That has trapped some people rather than empowered them.
More details of the welfare reforms will emerge in the coming weeks and months, the time has come for all good men to come to the aid of the country, the State should provide the “need”, but the individual should earn the “want”.
The Coalition is on the right path to redress the balance between “need” and “want” in the welfare system, get rid of benefit traps and change the culture of “state dependency”.
It should stick to the path, however treacherous it may be.